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Arriving in Suva on Friday, it was obvious there was a big rugby game coming up.
Posters and billboards were festooned with the Highlanders v Chiefs clash. The yellow and red of the Chiefs and the blue and gold of the Landers was everywhere. The Fijians in the street, shop assistants and hotel staff were resplendent in Otago and Waikato jerseys. Only the well-heeled were in Super tops, as they were retailing for $300 in the shops.
Downtown Suva was abuzz with anticipation. For the well-connected, there was a swanky function at the New Zealand High Commission hosted by High Commissioner Johnathon Kerr, Otago University and the Highlanders. It was a great night apart from some terribly boring speeches. Where is Steve Davie when you need him?
On to game night and Suva National Stadium was pretty much sold out. The weather was OK but there was a nagging, blustery sea breeze which made it a game of two halves. The sad news was the Chiefs felt it was Hurricane Mariah at their backs whereas the Highlanders felt it was a gentle zephyr when they had it. Thus, the game was over as a spectacle inside 30 minutes — but I digress.
The Fijian crowd didn’t know who to support and a lot of them were wearing both teams’ colours. When the ball went near Waisake Naholo (which wasn’t often) the crowd rose as one, screaming with delight. Damian McKenzie was adopted by the crowd as their favourite and he duly delivered. When his smiling face lit up the big screen, the females in the crowd went crazy. The ground announcer was an absolute superstar and wound the crowd up with undisguised zeal. He’d lost his voice by the end of the game but he was absolutely priceless.
Was it a success? Well the Fijian crowd left happy, the Highlanders made money and it was a coup (bad pun) for Highlanders owner Matt Davey and his company TicketDirect. But the Highlanders were thrashed and you can’t help but wonder if coach Mauger was that enamoured, especially since they have to back up against the Crusaders, in Christchurch on Friday night. When I interviewed him post game he was saying all the right things but ... Would I go back? Damn right, I would. You never have a bad day in Fiji. The good news is I’m here for another week. Catch you in a couple of weeks with "Kick for Touch".
- Paul Dwyer is on a break from club rugby and enjoying some Fiji sun.